Gecko Grip: It’s Atomic (Really)

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No suction cups, no Velcro, no glue. Geckos navigate nearly any surface with something far cooler: an electron dance at the atomic scale.


You know you’ve dreamed of it – scaling walls with your bare hands and feet.

For most geckos, that dream is reality.

Geckos can navigate nearly any surface.


Speeding along to score a meal, flee an enemy, or just take in the scene.

So what’s the trick to its stick?

Gecko feet aren’t covered in suction cups or velcro. They don’t squirt glue, or leave any footprints for that matter.

The gecko’s secret is a herculean amount of grip – at the atomic scale.

Check out its fabulous toes.

These ridges – called lamellae – are blanketed in hairs called setae.

And the setae branch out further – into millions of spatula-shaped pads.

Spatulae, if you will.

But the stick happens even closer in – check out these spatulae atoms.

They don’t have an electric charge, and neither do the atoms of the surfaces the gecko moves on.

As the gecko pulls its foot at just the right angle – those spatulae get so close to the surfaces’ atoms that the electrons start to sync up.

That shimmy is called Van der Waals force, and it’s what keeps the gecko attached to the surface.

If a gecko used all of its millions of setae at once, that force could hold you up – and a friend.

Humans have been trying to mimic gecko adhesion for years, and they’re finally getting close.

Scientists at Stanford University created a sort of gecko-inspired tape.

Under a microscope, you can see it has tiny wedges, much like the gecko’s spatulae.

If you pull the tape parallel to a surface, like an apple, the wedges flatten and connect to a larger area.

That close contact creates – you guessed it – Van der Waals force.

To release it, simply reverse the pull.

So, how does the gecko do it?

Well, it curls up its toes, changing the angle of its spatulae.

Which keeps them light on their feet, and ready to set out on more snack-robatic adventures.

Hi! Laura here. You know who really, really, sticks together? Red fire ants. During hurricane season, the colony rides out floods on a biting, stinging raft – built from their own interlocking bodies. Ouch!